UI vs UX: What is the Difference?

As a full-stack/generalist product designer, I’ve watched the industry’s obsession with titles for many years. Sure, we can keep being snarky about it, and continue throwing around funny tweets, but when did this help anyone? Just like “Should designers code?”, “UX vs UI” question turned into an inside joke.

On one hand, this trend might help a more seasoned designer vent. In fact, there’s a Tumblr entirely dedicated to it.

However, there is a danger that it makes the industry look frustrating and inaccessible to a beginner. And that’s a shame because the barrier to entry for a new designer has never been so low (and I mean this in a completely positive way).

TL;DR

UI stands for User Interface. It’s what users interact with directly, everything they see, touch and hear within a piece of software or a website. It’s the outermost layer of an app – the controls.

In its current state – due to the types of devices we are using – UI design is mostly a visual discipline, although voice and written word are gaining more and more traction thanks to voice assistants and conversational interfaces.

UX stands for User eXperience. It’s a holistic term encapsulating each and every different kind of touchpoint a user has with a product.

In the context of a digital product, this includes not only the software’s front-end itself, but the whole technical stack, customer service, branding, public image of the company, availability, pricing, and communication, and that’s certainly not all.

UI is a subset of UX. Both terms have different meanings and, whenever possible, should not be used interchangeably. The title “UX/UI designer” makes little sense in terms of semantics. Every UI designer is a UX designer by definition, and being a UX designer without a more specific field of work is quite rare. Talking about “UX” without specifics can quickly render any conversation meaningless.

So, what’s the problem with “UI/UX designer”?

As I see it, there are three major issues:

  1. It’s misleading for everyone: designers, developers, recruiters, founders, etc. More and more junior designers put it in their titles – and I can’t blame them. Everyone is doing it and being honest about your skill-set can sometimes make you feel like you’re letting yourself fall behind the title trends.
  2. It introduces a false career path where being just a “UI designer” is not enough. If digital product design was like Pokemon, “UX/UI designer” wouldn’t be the cooler, ‘levelled-up’ version of ‘UI designer”.
  3. It greatly undermines and almost tokenizes the importance of “UX design”, which is actually the sum of everyone’s work.

UI is a part of UX

In a nutshell, a user interface is the layer where human-computer interaction happens. Although an important one, it’s just one layer of the whole user experience stack, which encapsulates multiple disciplines.

Let’s use a real-world example: watching TV.

The UX of watching TV includes the content quality, specifications of the TV set, location, furniture, your current state of mind and a lot more. On the other hand, the UI of watching TV is just a small part of that: the design and build quality of the remote and the on-screen menus.

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Source: Sitepoint